Being a comic critic can be…weird. Your job is to review installments of a larger whole, so sometimes it feels like your criticisms for, say, issue #13 might end up getting resolved further down the road. Sometimes it even feels like a writer or artist has read your last review and adjusted accordingly (despite that being incredibly unlikely since they write these things way in advance and have to go through editors).
All that is to say that Superman: Up in the Sky #4 actually deals with my criticisms of #2 and #3. While this issue’s execution is still grating, at least King is taking the story fundamentals he established and is actually developing them.
Broken into two segments, this issue begins with classic DC iconography: Superman racing Flash to see who is truly the fastest man–er, being alive. Entirely done in splash pages, the scene is narrated by the little kidnapped girl. You know, the reason Superman is traversing space and time in the first place.
An overarching complaint I have with King is his dialogue; it almost always comes across as a contradiction. On one hand he goes for authenticity with ellipses and fractured sentences. But his use of repeated phrases and pointed metaphors aches of overwriting. It’s no surprise that King, a 40-plus year-old white man, trying to write for a five or six year old girl is not that convincing.
By the end, we see, for the first time, the girl in captivity and her captors. Yet it’s hard to believe she’d go on this whole monologue in the presence of huge, sinister aliens that have surrounded her, brandishing sharp objects.
The point of this is to show, once again, that Superman is willing to do anything to help or save somebody, a theme that’s been hammered into our heads across this series. It’s good to thread themes across a narrative, but King seems incapable of subtlety and needs to yank the emergency brakes every time to announce on a proverbial loud speaker that such and such hero is unstoppable and altruistic (see his Batman run).
Thankfully, the second story chunk is a bit better. King uses the very cliché story of a hero being separated into his emotional and rational side to illustrate the conflict between the good of the few and the many. This harkens back to the first issue, which was all about Superman having to make the tough call of abandoning Earth to find one girl.
What helps this latter half is the cute doses of levity, like Clark Kent asking his Superman side to leave him alone to eat an alien elephant in peace. It’s a common dynamic, but it’s done with just the right balance of conflict and humor.
All the while, Andy Kubert’s art oscillates between anatomically unnerving and effectively stoic. Close-ups of Superman’s face can be particularly strange, having a Howard Chaykin quality of a gargantuan chin and face with tiny facial features floating in the middle, but most of the panels work as atmospheric in a way that’s evocative of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.